The Blue Whale
The largest animal on the planet, with its 30 meters in length, its more than 100 tons, dominating the oceans with its majestic figure, we speak of the Balaenoptera musculus, better known as the blue whale, it can also be found with the name of fin whale blue.
Although we do not know many of its facets, this can help to strengthen the legends that revolve around it. There are very varied myths and legends, but if there is something that all of them have in common, it is that they have always been considered as exceptional creatures. In ancient Greece they were the creatures that protected travelers and, both defines and whales, were sacred.
Among the stories told on the high seas, one relates that our first ancestor traveled to New Zealand on the back of a blue whale and that from that moment they were considered powerful and supernatural creatures.
Today we will talk about the Blue Whale, one of the most endangered species. Will we become aware of the preservation of this animal? Will we learn a little about his life? How can we help them? The hand of man makes this world unkind to them.
Some interesting facts to get to know it. The largest blue whale on record was 33 meters long, the equivalent of three railroad cars, weighing 190,000 kilograms. We could compare it to 32 African elephants. Another curious fact is that, if we go back to the largest animals that inhabited this planet, the majestic dinosaurs, the whales are six times larger.
Your heart weighs 2,000 kilograms, almost the size of a car, and pumps 230 liters of blood per beat over a total of 15,100 liters of blood that your entire circulatory system contains. His brain, on the other hand, is only 19 kilograms, 0.01% of his body weight.
They are excellent swimmers, their usual speed is 22 km/h, although while they are feeding, their speed drops a lot, ranging between 2 and 6.5 km/h. But if they feel threatened, they can reach speeds close to 50 km/h.
Despite its large size, you will be surprised to know that all its diet is based exclusively on a small shrimp-like animal called krill. This whale has between 55 and 80 furrows (ventral folds) parallel to its body and along its throat. These folds help to evacuate the water from the mouth after its great thrusts to feed itself, thus retaining, with this filtering system, the coveted Krill. In adulthood they can consume about 4 tons of krill a day.
Their mating season begins in late autumn and lasts until late winter, with females giving birth after a gestation period of ten to twelve months. The calf weighs almost three tons and is about 8 m in length. Calves drink about three hundred and eighty liters of milk a day and gain about ninety kilograms in weight a day as well. They are the biggest babies in this world!
Due to its size, speed and strength, this precious animal was not hunted for many years, this was due in large part to the lack of infrastructure of the boats that could not lift and remove its huge body from the water once hunted.
Later, the arrival of the steamships marked their extermination with blood. Between 1930 and 1960 they were on the verge of extinction due to the intensive hunting that whalers carried out to obtain their oil. It was hunted mercilessly in all the seas of the Earth, accounting for only ten percent of the original population at the end of the 20th century.
Except for the hand of man, this majestic animal has no natural predators. They tend to be attacked by killer whales or sharks, but, in most cases, their main threat is to be injured or killed in collisions with large boats.
According to National Geographic, in 1966 the International Whaling Commission determined their protection, but since then their situation has only slightly improved. Currently, sadly, blue whales are classified as an endangered species on the Red List of the World Conservation Union.
Fortunately, we can still observe the majesty of these animals diving!!!
Although we do not have the pleasure of seeing them in the waters of Eivissa (Ibiza), since their route does not pass through our island, it is very common to observe the fin whale in winter, which I will talk about later. And, our beloved dolphins, who have been the protagonists of one of our previous blogs.
Like every end of the year, our SCUBA IBIZA diving center organizes trips to different seas of the world to meet, enjoy and see different species in their habitat. But the experience that I will tell you next has not been with them. It happened in my beginnings as a diver. My destination: Sri Lanka. The best place to dive and swim with whales, due to the large number of specimens that tend to be concentrated in these Asian waters.
The day was sunny, the sea was flat, perfect for a long-awaited dive and the whole group of divers was ready for the new adventure. With the equipment ready, we were getting ready to listen to the briefing and I remember that the explanation about how to swim with them caught my attention. The idea of the possibility of a whale encounter was pleasantly shocking to me.
Suddenly, the captain interrupted the conversation so that we all went to port side to see a whale passing by to greet us before the dive, the feeling was enormous and we had not yet submerged !! According to him, this specimen would measure about 18 meters.
What I remember from that talk was that, mainly, we should try to dive and swim all on the same side of the whale. The reason was based on the fact that these animals having the eyes located laterally, do not have peripheral vision, in this way, if we distributed ourselves to each side, it would feel surrounded and could react abruptly and try to escape. On the other hand, although they are harmless creatures, a blow of so many tons of weight could cause an unwanted accident. He also told us that blue whales usually live alone or in pairs and that they could occasionally be seen in small groups, but that we would surely see only one specimen that day.
An incredible experience that can hardly be put into words, I can only say that it was one of the best experiences I experienced in my life.
Something else to tell is how loud they are. The first time I listened to them, I was astonished. Upon exiting the dive, I asked the guide if something was happening to the whale or if it was normal and he told me that blue whales emit different moans and types of grunts and that they can communicate with each other more than 1,500 kilometers away. It is believed that, in addition to using it for long-range underwater communication, they also use it to be able to navigate in the dark depths of the ocean.
Whales can make calls of about 10 to 30 seconds in length, even four-note “songs” have been recorded that last about two minutes. Although many studies have been done, this type of sounds has never been observed in any other population, so it was concluded that this phenomenon may be an exclusive and unique characteristic of the blue whale. The reasons why they make these sounds are still unknown.
But in 1995 Richardson spoke of six possible reasons:
- To maintain the interindividual distance,
- For the recognition of the species,
- For the transmission of contextual information (for example: feeding, alarm, courtship, etc.),
- For the maintenance of social organization (for example: calls between males and females),
- To report on topographic features
- To report on the position of sources of possible prey.
Unfortunately, today whales are mainly victims of indiscriminate hunting in some countries such as Japan, because their meat is used in cosmetic products and food supplements. And the terrible thing about this is that the methods used are inhumane. To kill them, harpoons with grenades are used that subject them to a slow and painful death.
On the other hand, the threat against the species increases if we consider its low recovery capacity since it has long gestation periods (one year) and that they only give birth to one or two young per pregnancy. This is the reason why the whale population recovers much more slowly, compared to other populations of smaller animals and that they tend to spend less time and effort in their reproduction.
As you read this message, a blue whale is surely resisting in the loneliness of the great blue to be hunted. Perhaps one day we can see these gigantic and majestic animals in freedom without frights, protected and cared for by all the countries of this planet.
And then we will have shown that human creatures belong to a compassionate and intelligent race.
Either from the shore or on a boat …
Observe the oceans, fix your gaze on the sea, feel it, breathe … they provide us with half the oxygen we breathe … where legends come to life and reality becomes a fable. Unknown worlds, unknown stories, only guarded by a raging and defenseless sea.
- National Geographic
- ABC Society